Amnesty International released a statement on Friday that called a migrant deal between Turkey and the European Union “a stain on the collective conscience of Europe” that has resulted in the suffering of thousands of Syrian refugees and migrants.
“Today marks a dark day in the history of refugee protection: one in which Europe’s leaders attempted to buy themselves out of their international obligations, heedless of the cost in human misery,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe.
The deal was intended to return to Turkey asylum seekers caught in Greece on the assumption that Turkey was safe for them; however, thousands of migrants remain trapped on the Greek islands in what AI calls “de facto holding pens,” subject to squalid and unsafe conditions.
Greek courts have so far blocked the return of a majority of the refugees to Turkey while they determine if Turkey is in fact safe for them, despite the fact that “European leaders maintain the fiction that Turkey is a safe third country for refugees and asylum seekers,” according to AI.
Greece’s highest administrative court is expected to soon render a ruling on the safeness of Turkey for the refugees. If it determines that Turkey is indeed a safe haven for the migrants, a precedent could be set and the floodgates could be opened for further returns.
Amnesty has, however, documented that some Syrians have been forcibly returned to Turkey without any access to securing asylum and without an opportunity to appeal their return, in violation of international law. Others have “voluntarily” returned to Turkey due to the abject conditions in camps on the Greek islands.
“Instead of trying to return asylum seekers and refugees to Turkey, where they do not have effective protection, the EU should be working with the Greek authorities to urgently transfer asylum-seekers to mainland Greece for their cases to be processed. European governments should provide asylum seekers with access to relocation or other safe and legal ways to other European countries such as family reunification or humanitarian visas,” maintains AI.
The Turkey-EU deal has been praised by some European leaders as a model for agreements with other countries, despite its obvious failures and violations of international law.
But says AI’s Dalhuisen, “The fact that European leaders are heralding as a success a deal which has caused such immeasurable suffering exposes the fact that the EU-Turkey deal has nothing to do with the protection of refugees and everything to do with keeping them out of Europe,” adding that it is “a blueprint for despair for thousands of desperate people who have fled war and conflict in search of sanctuary.”